Prior to Tuesday’s game against the Indians and Trevor Bauer, I offered an alternative lineup strategy to combat the Cubs’ significant struggles against elite power starters. That analysis suggested Joe Maddon could increase the team’s run-production potential by starting his five best bats against power arms and clump them close together in the lineup.
These five hitters are Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward. So what happened in that game against Bauer?
Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery gave up 10 runs in the first five innings and largely sapped all drama from the outcome. But Maddon did surprise by partially implementing my suggested lineup strategy. He started three of those five players (Almora, Zobrist, Bryant) and even clumped them 1-2-3.
Now, the idea of partially implementing a strategy feels a bit like saying you’re a little pregnant. That said, it did allow for more side-by-side comparisons between power-arm “specialists” and “non-specialists.”
Let’s first note last night’s lineup after Bryant traditionally hits power starters poorly. They have hit a collective .201 average this year. So Tuesday actually represented greater success than usual. Still, their 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position was more typical and killed most attempted rallies. (Almora killed one other rally by unsuccessfully trying to stretch a single into a double ahead of Bryant.)
By comparison, full implementation of my “stack-and-clump” strategy would have started La Stella at second base and sat either Javy Baez or Addison Russell. As it turned out, both Baez and Russell were 0-for-2 with RISP against Bauer. Thus La Stella would have done no worse than either. Further, La Stella’s .389 batting average and .487 OBP against power arms this year suggests a far better chance than either Baez (.081) or Russell (.192).
My strategy also would call for starting Heyward (.375 this year against power arms) over Kyle Schwarber. (Zobrist would move to left field.) As it turned out, Schwarber went 1-for-2 with a walk against Bauer but faced no RISP opportunities. Short of homering, Heyward would have been hard-pressed to improve on Schwarber’s showing.
Even so, Heyward’s glove would certainly have prevented a couple runs by making two plays Zobrist was unable to handle in right field. So consider this one a push.
Bottom line: Tuesday’s loss was all about poor Cubs pitching and hot Indians bats, but the Cubs offensive struggles against Bauer felt very predictable. Next time against a power arm, Maddon would seem better served “packing and clumping” the lineup with his few proven bats against such pitchers.